Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said Thursday that his office had filed a lawsuit against a South Florida company and its owners for allegedly engaging in a deceptive foreclosure rescue and mortgage default mitigation scheme. Outreach Housing, LLC and company owners Blair Wright and Bryan Berry are named in the lawsuit, which claims that the pair victimized numerous Florida homeowners by misrepresenting themselves are foreclosure rescue assitance for troubled homeowners. According to an investigation by the state AG’s office, the defendants allegedly represented to Florida homeowners that they should not make payments to their mortgage lenders as due, but should instead pay Outreach Housing approximately 60 percent of the monthly payments due to their lenders. In return for these monthly payments, the company and its owners allegedly claimed they would work with the lenders to reduce the consumers’ mortgage debts. According to consumers’ complaints, these services were not provided. We know, dear HW readers. You’re shocked. Anyone in the mortgage servicing arena has seen these sort of schemes for decades now — it’s just that there are a whole lot more troubled homeowners than there used to be, and plenty of schemers willing to take what’s left of their money. McCollum’s office said it had received more than 50 complaints from homeowners, but further investigation revealed that more than 600 homeowners had signed up for the company’s services. The lawsuit seeks consumer restitution and civil penalties of $10,000 per violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Florida’s newly-passed Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act of 2008, which went into effect on Oct. 1, specifically targets such schemes and will hopefully make them less prevalent. The law now requires that a foreclosure rescue consultant — a person who tries to arrange a new payment plan with lender or other alternative to foreclosure — provide a written agreement to the consumer and obtain the consumer’s signature before beginning any services. The legislation further requires the rescue consultant to include in the written agreement a specific notice of the homeowners’ right to cancel, including the procedure for canceling, and a disclosure that the consumer should contact his or her lender first before signing because the lender may be willing to negotiate a payment plan free of charge. Why anyone would pay a foreclosure consultant up front, however, is beyond us. The real pros in this space don’t charge the borrower for their services, and instead work directly on behalf of the servicer.
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